Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Creating Successful Abstract Designs - Lesson 3: ADDING VARIETY

As I have posted photos and my digital art here and visited other blogs to leave and read comments, I've noticed that many people have commented that they cannot do abstract.

I say, "Yes you can !!!"

The problem is that most people believe that abstracts are created by throwing together a bunch of lines and blobs of colors at random.  Sometimes that works, but usually you get a bunch of shapes and colors that don't go well together.

So ---I'm taking you on a step-by-step tutorial, in 3 easy lessons, to create pleasing abstract designs. Once you are successful, you can stray from these guidelines and try other things.

You may make one copy of this information (text and images) for personal use or for educational purposes. All text and artwork are by the owner of this blog.

Find "Lesson 1: COLOR" by clicking HERE.
Find "Lesson 2: UNITY" by clicking HERE.


This Artist Trading Card design
uses similar shapes, straight lines, and a limited
palette which gave it UNITY.
What did I do to give it VARIETY?
What color scheme was used?
This was created from scraps of an unsuccessful printing
of a design on photographic paper ---which resulted in
the fine stripes in some of the colors. I added permanent
markers and sparkly nail polish.
VARIETY is what gives your designs interest.  Too much UNITY will make them boring, but you need UNITY to hold your design together.  So you need to find a good balance between the two.

I suggest that you use some of the elements suggested for UNITY in the previous lesson and add some of the following for VARIETY:

1. add varied tints or shades to your colors or add gradients,
while still keeping a limited color palette to give your design unity.

Gradients are very easy to create in watercolor or ink by adding water to your color.  You can also add gradients by changing the pressure on colored pencils.  And, of course, gradients are easy to add in Photoshop, either by changing a color gradually from a color to no color or by gradually changing from one color to another.

With any transparent medium, you can also overlap colors to create new colors where they overlap.

"Where Sky and Water Never Meet"
You can use these principles in any medium.
This was made by creating wavy pieces with crochet
and stitching them to stretched raw canvas. Dye was applied
in several layers to make varying shades of blue, while
leaving a section white. 
Each crocheted piece
was a different size and shape, as were the spaces
between them, yet all were wavy and attached within a
round shape. The crochet also has a texture and is 3D,
adding more variety to the finished piece.

2. vary your shapes and lines 

a) Vary the sizes of your shapes or the thickness of your lines while still using similar lines and shapes.  

b) Don't use only one shape. Instead of all circles, use some ovals. Instead of all squares, use some rectangles.

c) Combine more than one type of shape. Try circles and rectangles together.

d) Create your own shapes ---they don't have to be geometric.

e) Divide some shapes. For example, use half circles, quarter circles or pie shapes along with full circles.

f) Create a complicated shape or line. For example make a wavy line with both large and small waves. Created a free-flowing shape or a spiked shape with individual parts much longer and/or wider than others.

3. create new shapes while making parts connect

a) You can overlap by making one shape completely cover another or by making it look transparent. Both will hold the design together, but transparency creates a new shape and perhaps new colors where they overlap. Both can give the appearance of depth.

b) When placing one shape inside another, instead of placing it in the middle, move it off-center.  If you place a square inside another square close to one corner, you create a sort of L shape with the space around the smaller square.

c) When making your shapes and lines fit together, almost like pieces of a puzzle, vary them a little each time and vary the spaces between them.

What elements of UNITY and
VARIETY were used to create
this Artists Trading Card?
(By the way, I cut the center
design from the back of a
real playing card and kept the
border ---then used it as a
starting point for my color scheme.)

4. informal balance
Informal balance is balancing lines, shapes and colors throughout your design so that you have approximately even amounts throughout.  For example, all of your red should not be on the left.  But you can balance one large red shape on the left with a medium and a small on the right. You also need to balance from top to bottom and don't leave the center blank.
(See Lesson 2 for formal balance.)

A general rule is that an abstract design  should look fairly good no matter which way you rotate it.  It may look best to you with one side up, but turn it to see if it needs something to balance it so it will look good in any direction.

5. repetition
Repeat lines, shapes and colors but not in exactly the same way.  For example, you might have a row of 3 medium sized red circles in one place and a row of 5 smaller red circles somewhere else.

If you have a curvy line, you can make another line next to it that repeats with a similar, but not exactly the same curve, or follow the first line for a short while, then have it diverge somewhat and then return to look like the first line again. Or place parallel lines beside each other, but vary the width of lines and/or the spaces between them.

All of the above are suggestions for varying the elements discussed in "Lesson 2: UNITY."
Below are some other ways you can add variety to your designs:

6. vary spacing
Spaces between lines and shapes are just as important as the shapes themselves.  So think about varying the shapes and sizes of spaces created in the "negative space" of your designs.

How was spacing varied to create this design?
Are all the zig-zag lines exactly alike?

How does texture add to the interest?

7. add patterns or textures
Adding patterns or textures in some (but not all) parts of your design will give the design interest. You can draw lines or squiggles on a design, splatter paint on it, use a sponge instead of a brush, place your paper over a rough surface and rub it with a crayon or colored pencil. Or scan your image and digitally add a texture.

Instead of, or in addition to, textures, you can
use foiled or printed papers, add sparkly nail polish, use metallic pens or paint, glue on scraps of lace, add fabric.  There are a zillion other ways you can add variety to a design.

What elements of UNITY and VARIETY
were combined to create this design?
What colors and shapes were used to create balance?
Is there one "center of interest" or more than one?

8. create a "center of interest"
The "center of interest" can be one shape, line, color or texture that draws the eye to it or there may be more than one interesting spot.

9. use the "rule of thirds"
The "rule of thirds" is very popular in photography. In fact, my camera has a grid on the screen that divides the space ---it helps me to keep the camera level and to place objects in the most visually-pleasing locations. 

Instead of placing the most interesting part of your design (the "center of interest") in the center, place it where lines meet on a grid that divides your design in 3 in each direction (creating a grid of nine spaces.)
See the "Rule of Thirds" Image below.

10. know when to stop
More designs are ruined by not knowing when to stop than by not doing enough. Remember that simplicity can be both beautiful and elegant.

One nice thing about creating collages is that you can place shapes on your designs but not glue them in place until you are satisfied.  That's not easy to do with paint.  Once you've added a new shape with paint, it's too late to take it back.

An abstract design is complete when it looks like it has enough, but not too much.

This Artist Trading Card was created with scraps from a
tissue box design, plus markers and metallic pens.
What gives it UNITY and what gives it VARIETY?
This Artist Trading Card was made from a variety of
foiled and sparkly ink-jet papers with textures printed on
some pieces that were then cut up to make the design.
In addition, markers, a metallic silver pen, and
sparkly nail polish were added.

11. have fun, be creative
Try something new or different. Experiment. Most of the examples here are rather "controlled" designs.  Although I suggest you begin by controlling what you do by carefully choosing and placing your design elements, after a while, you can create less controlled images by slopping some paint, while still sticking to the color, unity and variety rules.

I love working in digital because I don't need to waste materials on experiments ---although I do waste plenty of time. I have an undo button to eliminate my mistakes. I can easily add a color or change a color whenever I want.

But if you don't use digital, you can make thumbnail sketches or Artist Trading Cards (little 3.5" X 2.5" designs). Or experiment to see what will happen if you use watercolor over colored pencils or put crayon shavings on paper and heat it in an oven. (If you try this, be sure to place your paper on newspaper to absorb any extra wax and place a large, flat pan under it to catch any drippings.)

I sometimes make 10 versions of something before deciding which one I like best.

Remember to limit your color palette, give your designs enough unity to hold them together and enough variety to make them interesting.

NEED DESIGN IDEAS? I found this website that might be a good starting point for creating an abstract design:

Freshly Made Sketches is a blog that suggests basic designs and asks readers to make greeting cards with that design. If you are doing this for yourself (not posting to that site) you can create a painting, journal entry, or a scrapbook page or an Artist Trading Card with a suggested design. (As of this posting, there are about 140 of them, but I believe one is added weekly.)

After viewing the basic designs, click on “home” and scroll down to see examples of designs that were created using the basic elements given. Most are excellent examples of informal balance, although an occasional formal balance is thrown in.

They are very basic, but if you are stuck for a design idea, start with one of those and see what you can do with it. Be sure to use what you learned about unity and variety in your designs. With greeting cards, there is often a lot of empty space and a definite bottom, so you might fill in extra space by repeating the design elements you already used while varying them to some extent.

And remember, although an abstract may look best to you turned in one direction, it should probably look good no matter which end is up.

*****Please use the url(s) of the specific post(s), not your website address.*****  

I'd love to see the results of my 12-hour marathon to write thees 3 lessons on creating successful abstract designs.

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